Saturday, April 30, 2005

desafuero update

It looks like Fox is starting to realize he made a big mistake with this desafuero thing: he's just fired his Attorney General, obviously in an attempt to scapegoat the guy. Look for Foxy to cut a deal with the mayor sometime soon.

Don't feel too bad for the ex-AG, however. I'm sure that in exchange for taking the fall, he'll be given a cushy ambassadorship somewhere. Or else a few million bucks out of the national treasury and a house on a Carribbean island.

One thing to keep an eye on is this: it looks like the new AG is going to be a guy by the name of Caveza de Vaca, which literally translates as Cow's Head. Seems politically risky to me to have an attorney general by the name of Cow's Head -- as if anyone's going to take that guy seriously! So we'll see how that pans out for ol' Fox.

Happy Kid's Day

For all you kids out there, today is your day in Mexico. Mexico, like Mother's and Father's Day, has instituted a national day for kids. I would have moved down here earlier in my life if I had known about this great day. Anyways, Happy Kid Day!

desafuero down-low

I imagine by now that most everyone has heard about the ongoing situation here with Mexico City's mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. It's really quite a fascinating case, although I certainly realize that I can call it "fascinating" because I'm viewing the whole thing through the eye of a foreigner. If I were a Mexican citizen, I'd probably be more likely to characterize it as "horribly tragic" or as "absolutely infuriating and offensive" -- much the same way that I as a U.S. citizen might characterize, say, the nomination of Michael Bolton as the ambassador to the U.N.

Anyway, the long and short of it is this: Lopez Obrador, the highly popular leftist mayor has been stripped of his immunity from prosecution by the PAN and PRI party members of Congress (Lopez Obrador, known in Mexico as AMLO, is a member of the PRD) so that he can be charged for ignoring a court injunction to stop building an access road to a hospital. As a result, he may or may not still be the mayor of the city, and, more importantly, he likely will be disqualified from running for president in 2006. For the past year or so, he has been the front-runner in presidential preference polls.

Now, on the spectrum of wrongdoings by Mexican politicians, building an access road on disputed property is about as minor as it gets. Just to give one example, the current governor of Morelos state, a member of President Fox's PAN party, flies around in helicopters belonging to drug cartels; dated the daughter of a key cartel figure; and has been implicated in the drug-smuggling, kidnapping and murder charges filed against one of his top cabinet members. Yet efforts to impeach him from office have been unsuccessful.

In such context, everyone in the world can see the case against Lopez Obrador -- the desafuero by its Spanish legal name -- as a politically motivated effort to eliminate a popular member of an opposition party.

Of course, if you want to view this glass as half full, you might see the judicial-as-political approach as a step in the right direction, especially for the PRI, which in the past simply murdered rival politicans (and it did so even within its own party - check out a couple of guys named Colosio and Ruiz Massieu, both killed as recently as 1994).

Maybe the difference this time is that in the Lopez Obrador case, the PRI appears to following the lead of President Vicente Fox and his conservative PAN party. Left to their own devices, the PRI might just drop 'ol AMLO out of an airplane. The PAN, at least for now, seems to prefer slightly more subtle methods.

Still, the Fox/PAN-at-the-helm-angle leads to a pretty painful irony: when Fox was elected in 2000, ending the PRI's 71-year run of power, he ran on a platform of "change" and promised to lead the nation in a transition to real democracy. Now he's teamed up with his old rivals the PRI to make sure that Mexican voters don't have the opportunity to freely choose Lopez Obrador in a democratic election.

So why are these guys so terrified of Lopez Obrador as a presidential candidate anyway? Here are a couple of possible reasons:


AMLO has advocated greater government control over certain sectors of the economy. Liberalization has made a lot of PAN and PRI bigwigs very rich in recent years.
Many PAN and PRI politicians have some serious skeletons in their closet. They may fear that a President Lopez Obrador would prosecute them for stuff a lot more aggregious than building an access road.
The PAN and PRI higher-ups may have their differences, but they are still part of the same elite ruling class that has dominated Mexico for centuries. The last thing in the world they want to see is a candidate of the people running "their" country.
But what appears to be happening now is that the plan behind the desafuero has really backfired. See, what the PAN/PRI alliance didn't count on is that people are generally in favor of democratic government, and they get very angry when they feel that their democratic rights have been trod upon. They also are not so stupid that they can't see the difference between a political rub-out and the execution of justice. So, not surprisingly, AMLO's popularity has gone up since the desafuero started, and Fox's has gone down. There was a pro-AMLO march here on April 7 and several hundred thousand supporters turned out. There was a second march here last Sunday and an estimated 1.2 million showed up.

It really was a hare-brained scheme to begin with. Lopez Obrador is a master at self-promotion -- all of his public works projects are super high-profile, all of his food and voucher handouts are done in the central square with the full press corps on hand -- and so of course he was going to spin the case to his advantage. And it's not like he was such a sure-thing for the presidency that they had no other choice. Although he had been leading presidential preference polls, AMLO was ahead with only about 35% of the vote, which means 65% of the electorate wasn't yet planning to vote for him. And while Lopez Obrador's handouts have made him a hit with the elderly and the urban poor, many people that I had spoken with -- especially young people -- said they just don't trust the guy.

But now he's playing himself as a martyr and a victim of the power elite and the enemies of democracy, and it's resonating with the people.

And as the situation plays itself out, it sure is taking some interesting twists and turns. For example, here's one clever twist that I have to give the PAN/PRI credit for: Under Mexican law, Lopez Obrador would have to go to jail once he was formally charged. The mayor was all ready to turn that to his advantage as well, talking about running his campaign from behind bars and repeatedly conjuring up comparisons to Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. But the day that the charges were filed, two PAN senators rushed down and posted Lopez Obrador's bail, and so he couldn't go to jail after all. Touche to you, AMLO!

Disappointed that he couldn't go to prison, AMLO has decided to go back to work. After all, the laws used to prosecute this case are so murky that no one has been able to definitively say that he can't continue being mayor, at least for the time being. So on Monday, the mayor returned to his office amidst swarms of cameras, throngs of followers, and huggable children. Fox's people say that he is breaking more laws by resuming his post, and so maybe they'll send the cops down to arrest him. I'm sure he'd love that.

So keep an eye on this story: it certainly promises to get even more fascinating before it's all over.

Friday, April 29, 2005

fork fees?

I had some friends down visiting recently, which provided me the opportunity to do something a little out-of-the-ordinary: eat at nice restaurants. Generally I'm on a pretty tight budget, which means either cooking at home or dining budget-style only. But since this was a special occasion, and since my friends came with their pockets stuffed with U.S. dollars, I got to dine in style for a few days.

But one thing that struck me about the fancy restaurants we visited here in the city was an unusual charge that a couple of places tacked on to our bill: a fee for cubiertas, or silverware.

Now, one of the places we ate at was so good that they could have charged me for salt and pepper use and I wouldn't have complained. But it still struck me funny that a restaurant would bill its customers for using their silverware (it was about US$1.50 per person in both cases). Or is that a fairly routine practice in fancy-schamntzy dining?

In any case, it got me to thinking that maybe the next time I go out for fine eating, I could save a few pesos by bringing my own knife and fork along. Think they'd take offense?

Monday, April 18, 2005

my paycheck and taxes

I finally got my first paycheck from UTM (things got hung up for a variety of visa- and stupidity-related reasons) and since I received 1 month pay in a single check, I got bumped up to a high tax bracket and lost over 50% of my gross pay. And the bummer about losing all that money in taxes on my paycheck is that I'll never see it again. If you lose money like that in the US, you know you'll get it back at the end of the year. But in Mexico, it's gone into the black hole. Which is why many Mexicans don't pay taxes. Right now is tax season in Mexico and the US. You constantly hear t.v. ads desperately pleading with Mexicans to file their income tax, almost suggesting that it was an optional activity that they should seriously considering undertaking.

In fact, just a few weeks ago in one of my classes we had an activity in which the students matched important days in the US (our textbook assumes that all English language learners live in the US and are deeply interested in American customs and practices) with their dates. One set was "Tax Day" and "April 15," so I asked my students what date tax day is in Mexico. They didn't have the foggiest idea.

I have a friend who spent a year on exchange in the US and she said to me: "Mexicans complain about paying taxes and Americans complain about paying taxes. But at least you can see where your taxes are going. Roads are in good repair, public spaces are kept clean, parks are generally well-cared-for, etc. But in Mexico, we pay taxes and we don't see any return. It goes right into corrupt politicians' pockets." I guess she has a point, though on the flip side, Americans also get to see how our tax dollars allow the U.S. invade Iraq and other imperialist acts that are so common in our history.

I will not go into the history of Latin America, but the US has a poor history with involving itself in affairs of other countries in L.A.

the gold juicer 2000

This weekend, I went to Oaxaca to get a few items, like shirts made for work, rare food, some paintings for my apartment, and the most important item, a juicer!

The juicer is called juguera de oro 2000 ("the gold juicer 2000".. if that does not grab your attention, nothing will). When I was searching for a proper juicer, I wanted one that had the proper handle and solid base. Remember when byying a juicer, the handle is what makes or breaks the juicer. The gold juicer 2000 has a solid handle, which is one of the reasons why I bought it. Another, it is has a solid base. When juicing, the proper juice position will sometimes causes the jucier to slip. A proper base fights this ongoing problem.

So I bought it, I bought the gold juicer 2000. And what a steal it was. As soon as I got off the van from Oaxaca, and went straight to the market to buy some oranges. I bought about 7 pounds for $1.75. Since then, I have been juicing regularly. Well that was yesterday, and I have juiced 3 times so far. It is some of the best juice I have ever had. Also, the juice inside the oranges are cold, so it is ready to drink after jucing.

Here is some juicing advice: make sure to change your routine. Putting all your weight on the handle by pulling down is just as good as putting all your weight by pusing down... so change it up a little and keep jucein'!

slacker!

It has been brought to my attention that I have been a total slacker lately at keeping up with my blog. For this, I apologize and promise to do better.

Generally, when you see long periods of non-posting like this, you can assume that it's due to one of two possibilities. The first is that my life has hit a stretch so dull that I couldn't possibly think of anything interesting to tell you. On the other hand, the second alternative is that my life has become so exciting, so astonishing and stimulating that I wouldn't dream of spelling out the salacious details here, since, after all, my mom is a regular reader of the blog.

I'll let you guess which has been the most recent case.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

videocentro

I've moved recently to Huajapan and one of my first orders of business upon arrival here was to try to get a video rental membership set up. There's a rental place just a few blocks from my house that has a pretty good selection, but before they'd let me check out one of their DVDs, I had to go through basically the same rigamarole that I did at Videocentro back in Queretaro: They wanted proof of residence (copies of water bills, an electric bill, rent receipt, etc.), I had to give them copies of my passport and visa, and I had to provide 2 local references who could vouch for me as video rental-worthy. Maybe I had to give them a urine sample as well, I can't really remember clearly now it was all so overwhelming...

So I managed to get all my paperwork in and waited anxiously for my references to come through - it was like waiting to hear on a college application or something. Finally, a few days later, I got the good news: I had been accepted for membership! I could come back later that evening when the owner was in and pick up my card.

I felt giddy all day, like the junior manager who's just found out he'll be getting the key to the executive washroom. Then, when the designated hour finally came, I rushed down to the shop and was handed this membership card that was an old cigarette carton.

The four-digit number crudely typed on the back of a piece of cigarette carton wasn't quite the golden key I was expecting. Still, it does the trick, and now I can rent cinematic classics like Oye, ¿Donde está mi auto? (Dude, where's my car?) and Señor Deeds with no problem. The funny thing is, as strict as they were about admitting me into their exclusive rental club, they're totally laid-back now that I'm in. In fact, when I rent a movie, they ask me when I'm planning to bring it back. Membership has its privileges, I guess.

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